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The Best Leader I Ever Knew (cont.)

Leadership Lessons


So what was it about this ordinary man that made him such a great leader? Was he born with it? Did he learn it? Why would people, literally, follow him into war? How did he earn the respect and loyalty of sailors to admirals; from secretary to president; from golf buddy to school board president? You only had to work with him once to know he was special. Even those who disagreed with him recognized that, but what was it about him?

To this day, I don't know. However, I do know some of the things he did. These are the things that can help all of us be a little more of a leader.

He knew what he wanted to do. It is awfully hard to get others to do what you want if you don't know what you want. If you manage a customer service center, is your goal to have the lowest cost operation or to answer all calls within 90 seconds. The goal isn't as important as knowing what it is.

He told people what to do, not how to do it. He was a very smart, well educated man, but he knew he wasn't smarter than everyone. He encouraged people to think, to innovate, to be creative. He didn't blindly accept what you came up with, but he expected you to come up with something appropriate.

He did his homework. Before starting a new challenge, he always tried to find out what others had tried that had succeeded or failed. He researched the obstacles and opponents. He tried to give himself the best chance of winning by learning as much as could at the beginning. He was always learning and always thinking.

He led by example. He pushed his people hard. He demanded a lot of them. But no one ever worked harder than he did. He was the first one in and the last one to leave. And he worked hard the whole time he was there. He knew how to play, but he knew how to separate that from the job.

He demanded excellence, not perfection. He expected you to work as hard as he did and to be as committed to the goal as he was. He didn't expect you to do as much or as well as he did, he insisted, however, that you do as much and as well as you could.

He took care of his people. He knew everyone who worked for him as an individual. He knew their strengths and weaknesses, their aspirations, their fears. He always took the criticism from outside the group, but let each of them take the praise for what they contributed.

He was humble. I never understood why. With all he had done and had accomplished in his life, he was always modest. There was one time, about ten years ago, when he made a little boast. That one probably doesn't count though - he was stating a fact and we were both a little drunk.

He had character. He was honest and truthful. He was dependable. When he gave you his word, you always knew you could count on it. He didn't cheat. He didn't try to find the easy way out of a tough situation. He didn't waffle on his principles. He was not inflexible, but there simply were limits that he wouldn't cross.

The best leader I ever knew died recently. He was my father. I will miss him.


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